The inevitable awkward silences on our first date were replaced by something lovely. Just something quiet. I wouldn’t remember if I liked my dinner. I was too consumed with watching the way his lips moved and wondering if he would ever care enough about me to know what my favorite color was. I knew he was something special, but sometimes you just never know the true intentions of people. When you want to be loved, the mind can make up just about anything.
We walked out to the valet after dinner. I didn’t know what I was going to say next. He just stared at me with his ocean blue eyes. The sky was so bright and so vast it made me smile. I looked up to the stars and hoped they would give me some kind of answer. He was looking at something across the street. His eyes were wide. I realized they were green, not blue.
The next thing I knew, his hand was in mine.
“All these years living in L.A. and I’ve never been to the carnival,” he said with a shy smile.
We approached the twinkling lights in the distance which felt like the inside of my stomach. Something inside me had changed. I felt like the dancer inside a shiny new jewelry box waiting for the world to spin for her. Maybe a ride on the carousel could do the same.
He led me through the crowd, weaving through games and tents. The air smelled of freshly fluffed popcorn, overflowing out of striped buckets and left on the ground like the spoils of carnival war. It was like there was a whole world to be rediscovered. There were wonderful things waiting for us to feel young about again. It was funny how dating sometimes made me feel old, even at the age of thirty-one. It wasn’t just the promise of feeling young again for one night, it was the hope that love had found us. It was the world that seemed so alive and wild. It was the blur of the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Ferris wheel together. They looked like a rainbow monster had catapulted out of the ocean, causing an echo of delightful screams. It was equal parts terrifying and thrilling, but sometimes you had to think about catching your breath. It was kind of like being in love with someone new, someone you had just met. You felt like you couldn’t imagine your life without them, even for not knowing them very long. It reminded me of summers spent at the carnival in the Midwestern middle of nowhere Indiana. My little sister and I rode the bumper cars endlessly without realizing the Tunnel of Love was always a few steps away. A moment I had not thought about in years was now a moment I would feel again. The terror in saying how I truly felt was like the thrill of bracing for impact on those toy cars. It was exhilarating, electric even, and for once I didn’t care. My face hurt from smiling so much. It made me believe in how love could feel like magic, and that was just what I needed to make the world spin again.
It was our one chance to ride the Ferris wheel to the very top. The carnival came to town once a year during Halloween, when I believed anything was possible. From the top of the Ferris wheel, it almost seemed like it was. By the end of October, the carnival was just another dry dirt lot sectioned off with chain link fence and the magic of the night forever trapped inside. The scarecrows returned to the hollow, inanimate objects they were, circled by crows waiting for them to come alive again. The whole night had felt like chasing a dream and still trying to remember it after you woke up. It was how Dorothy felt questioning if her ruby slippers were real, like they were two bright red admit one tickets sparkling in the wind. There was something about the beach winds that carried a certain mystery. They made you feel alive and most importantly free. Free to ride the rides and get lost in the blur of it all. To win fluffy stuffed animals that just end up living at your house forever. Free to lose it all at the ring toss. Free to fall in love. Both equal games of chance.
The fog was creeping into the corners of my mind, the fog comprised of equal parts loneliness and love. The one full of self-doubt and dreaming in black and white. The nightmare of insecurities. I didn’t realize how lonely I had been until there had been someone to ride the Ferris wheel with. Someone who wanted to risk getting stuck at the top without the fear of heights. I tried not to focus on staring into the darkness of the ocean on the way down. I saw a pink tree with a gypsy wagon parked under it. I imagined the tree alone in the field once the carnival had been packed up and the scenery broken down. It almost made it seem like the lot was the surface of another planet. Giant bespoke wheels painted yellow and a curvy ladder were planted in the dirt. There was a hand-painted wooden sign swaying in the wind to the creaks of its hinges. The words “As the Fortune Goes by Gypsy Rose” were painted in dark purple calligraphy over a golden yellow crescent moon floating in clouds. The words were painted with a glowing white outline and no doubt by hand, years ago. I wondered what the carnival looked like forty years ago. The machines had to be at least that old, clunking and whirring away the already peeling paint. They had seen it all with a gentle innocence. They had captured happy childhood screams to stay immortal, and as proof were covered in fingerprints from hands sticky with pink cotton candy that looked like it had been plucked straight from the afterglow.
A blonde woman shrouded in a midnight colored velvet cloak popped her head out of the wagon and made eye contact with us.
“Come in my children.” Her voice was gentle.
“I will tell you all you need to know.”
She parted the amber colored beaded curtains and we followed her inside.
We had transported somewhere else, into a gypsy wagon that smelled of incense and the breath of air you took right before a sip of red wine. Inside there were candles projecting shadows of dancing flames against the walls. That was the scary thing about shadows sometimes. They made us think they were bigger than they actually are. Our mind could play these sort of tricks on us, especially this time of year. We had to remember shadows were just dark outlines of our physical bodies, not our souls waiting to follow us into Neverland. Still, something about the moment was enchanting as being pulled into the beginning of a fairy-tale. Janis Joplin was humming from a record player. Everything was the color of gold. I felt high from the Ferris wheel. It wasn’t like being the floating head in the crystal ball at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. This felt real, without all of the macabre, but a little bit of the magic. I knew she was going to tell us a fortune, and couldn’t wait to hear what she could possibly say next.
She took our hands and looked at the lines in them.
“You two are a young love, a special love you need to hold on to.”
Something about what she said enchanted us. Maybe we both wanted to believe in love, which seemed riskier than being haunted by her beautiful diablerie.
“Love is different nowadays. People are more scared than ever to fall. Don’t you ever feel like a part of you is missing? You both want something together but you’re scared of the hollow.”
“The hollow?” I asked.
“The hollow, my dear, where your soul lives.”
We spent our next forty years together trying to figure out what that meant.